Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 8

confederation bridge

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Summerside, Prince Edward Island
421 miles (2,217)

It’s Fathers’ Day and I’m not home. I miss my family badly today. I’ve thought about Dad all day today, but hadn’t a chance to call him. He was at church when I left this morning, and I’ve been riding all day long. Now I’m in Canada and can’t call even though I have time.

I lost hours today. Actually, the trip felt relatively short, but the clock says it took 11 hours. The rain and cold really slow things down, but I’m really not sure why. Last year I rode the first 700 miles of my trip in 13 hours. It just doesn’t add up.

I’ve said before, that time doesn’t pass when you’re on a motorcycle. This, for me, is the most solid proof of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Interestingly, once you stop riding, time rushes forward to the point where it would have been had it been passing all along, like some kind of compensatory rubato that Christopher was talking about last Wednesday. The catch here though, is that it is not always accurate, or punctual even. Often, there is lag between when you stop and the time it takes for time to catch up. It feels like the time keeper has been in sleep mode, and when it’s awakened, it has to recalculate, and now and then you can get a read out, while it still displays the time it was when you left hours ago. There have been times when I have stopped for such a short rest, that time really didn’t have time to catch up. I’ve looked at the time when I stopped and was shocked that no time had passed. But then on my next trip, upon stopping, twice as much time caught up so that it seemed I’d ridden twice as long that time.

Though still extremely wet and windy, today was the warmest day I’ve ridden since I crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Apparently, that is peculiar to the Maritimes. As I’ve read about this area, several locations have boasted “mild winters and balmy summers.” Of course, that, too, is relative. For me, a mild winter is 60 degrees and a balmy summer is 100. I can’t really know what they mean by that, except that as I rolled across New Brunswick toward PEI, despite the wind and rain, the air seemed to be much warmer than it’s been in New Hampshire and Maine.

It was a long, slow line to get through customs today. Fortunately, most of the sitting in line was pointing downhill, so I shut my engine off and coasted most of the way. Almost the entire ride from Parkman to Calais was in a cold, misty rain. The rain, wind and fog really picked up after I entered Canada. I attributed it to the fact that I was riding along the bay of fundy, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. My first couple miles in Canada was on slippery, pot-holed, wet clay, as road construction had removed the pavement, and water was standing in the clay holes. I honestly had trouble keeping my bike upright as I slowly rolled through Saint Stephen, NB. I stopped and hit an ATM machine about 30 minutes into New Brunswick because I feared the further I went, the less likely I was to find someone willing to take US dollars in case of emergency.
I’d gassed up in Calais to take advantage of the last chance for moderately priced gasoline, but I was running at highway speeds against an extreme headwind, and knew I’d drain the gas tank quickly. That happened as I went on reserve about half way between St. John and Sussex and slowed down, hoping there would be gas available soon. When I finally found some, it was a dollar and four cents per litre, and I used 13 litres. My credit card was charged $118 dollars for it and they put a hold on my card. This card was my backup card because my primary card had already been stopped due to suspicious activity – namely, me traveling on a motorcycle and spending 8 bucks every 100 miles.
I stopped to warm my hands in Moncton, and the cashier at the store told me, “it could be interesting crossing the bridge to PEI.” That was the second time I’d heard that in the last couple hours, so I asked her to explain. She said that the bridge is often closed to trucks because of wind, but added that there were rails and that I’d probably be low enough that they would shield me from the wind and blowing rain. I had thoughts of the cold, windy, rainy ride across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, and began to worry/wonder at what I was going to face on this nasty night in the dark across the Confederation Bridge.
The rain and wind on the main road began to pick up as it got dark, and I rode hard to the PEI exit on the freeway. I stopped to gas up, not knowing how much further it was, and turned off into the unknown.
Immediately off the freeway, I began to get worried. The road was extremely bumpy, unmarked, or the marks were extremely worn, oncoming traffic, though sparse, blinded me with headlights refracting through the rain and reflecting off the wet pavement and the spray they kicked up off the road. Each time I saw the glow of headlights in the distance I took note of the direction the road took and slowed nearly to a stop to avoid running off the road while blinded. Also, about every mile there were signs that warned me of the moose population and asked me to use extreme caution. Having seen dozens of moose by now, and now being mostly weather blind and on a motorcycle, I began to get the willies.
I thought of Neil Peart’s words about the intense concentration that was required of him to ride his motorcycle on his Ghost Rider trip. He spoke of how it kept the grief from coming in and crushing him because the riding required every thought. Honestly, though constantly scanning the landscape, looking for tricky turns, low shoulders, uneven pavement, erratic drivers, gravel in the road, possible escape routes, I’ve never had to think that hard to ride. Now, though, I was using every brain cell to concentrate on staying right of an unmarked center, left of an unmarked shoulder, and rubber-side down, while scanning the invisible roadside for Moose. As I rode on, nervously, I kept hearing that warning, “it could be interesting crossing the bridge.”
When I finally arrived at the bridge, alive, I was elated to see that it was well lit, well marked and well paved. To make matters better, the rain almost completely stopped, and there was very little wind. The rest of the ride to Summerside was uneventful, if a bit chilly.
Jim was waiting at the door when I arrived, and there were leftovers waiting to be eaten for a late supper. Warmth, food and old friendship. The 421 miles of rain were worth it.